Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Cleansing the homeless from the West End

Westminster council has proposed a new bylaw that will enable the officialdom of local authorities to fine people in and around the Westminster Cathedral Plaza if they "bed down or sleep, what rough sleepers call skippering, in any public place or even if charities distribute free food and drink to homeless people.

Campaigners, have called it an attempt to criminalise homelessness, and they are right, but this is not the first time that this Tory flagship local authority has attempted to move on the street homeless and clear them away. During the last five years they have attempted on numerous occasions to either close-down soup runs or move on homeless people with the help of the police homeless persons unit stationed in Charring Cross police station, and in effect cleansing the homeless from the West End.

Now we hear a great deal about the big society, but this disgraceful attack on the homeless is anything but big, so what if the tourists who spend their money in a city that is becoming an expensive playground for the rich and better off, get shock dose and a measured portion of reality, and then of course their will be a big push to clear the streets in preparation for the Olympics.  

The Guardian reports that figures to be published this week suggest that government spending cuts will lead to the closure of around one in six of England's 44,000 homeless hostel beds from April. According to Homeless Link, which represents 480 homeless charities, the authorities where most hostel bed spaces have been earmarked for closure are Rochdale, Kingston upon Hull, Kensington and Chelsea, Lewisham, and Nottinghamshire and Nottingham city. Homeless Link says a survey reveals that its members expect a 25% average cut in local authority funding, with over a quarter saying they will have to reduce the number of homeless clients they work with.

Westminster council says, and preposterously, that soup runs provide a magnet for homeless people and encourage crime, begging and antisocial behaviour. In 2007 the council attempted to ban soup runs in 2007. Now I spend a lot of time amongst the street homeless and have done for the last tens years, many of whom I consider my friends, they come they go, they somehow and under their own stem with the help of front-line services (who will be cutback) find a way back into affordable accommodation which in itself is quickly disappearing here in London as property is turned over to the property developers and the rich.

Changes to housing benefits will force many people young and old out of accommodation as many councils cut spending on hostels and other housing support services, this will amount to and contribute to a national housing crisis the like of which we have not seen in a long time and instead of clearing the streets of the homeless they will fill them up. 

1 comment:

Chris H said...

You really couldn't make it up. Criminalising those who are in desperate need should be a crime, not sleeping rough or being so hungry that you get your food from soup runs!

Nick Cohen wrote an article in the Guardian which had the sentence below.

"And if you find the idea of forcing hundreds of thousands of Conservatives to take to the roads carrying their belongings in suitcases a touch Pol Pottish, that is precisely the punishment George Osborne's housing benefit cap will inflict on the urban and rural poor."

It could so easily be transformed at the flick of a pen to apply to what those at Westminster council are doing.

I think you reported on something similar a while back before the olympic building started? Police issuing tickets to get street drinkers out of the area or out of sight? All to clean up the image of the place? A bit like factories whitewashing the toilets when the Queen is due to pay a visit!

What society have we become where people could even put this sort of thing forward? The answer of course is a class-based society, where the smoke from the class war permanently fought by the ruling classes occasionally blows above the trees for everyone to see.

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